Q: My child is a goalie and I’ve noticed that the goaltending stats are often wrong. Should I be concerned?
A: Not at all. I was just in Finland doing an exchange with some of their regional coaches and we talked about goaltending quite a bit. While they place a heavy emphasis on goaltending – Finland has become one of the world’s leading goalie incubators – they realize that most goaltenders don’t reach their full potential until much later in their lives. They aren’t concerned about stats until the goalies are much older.
They have three great contemporary examples of goalies that weren’t always the best and didn’t always post sparkling stats when they were younger: Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi and Pekka Rinne. All three are now in the NHL; one an Olympic medalist, one a Stanley Cup champion and one an IIHF World Championship MVP.
Here are the stories:
Tuukka Rask – We met a guy named Jarkku who is the goalie coach in his region. He grew up playing with Rask and was the No. 1 goalie when they were both on their U20 team. Rask was his backup. Now Jarkku is a regional goalie coach and Rask is one of the best goalies in the NHL.
Antti Niemi – When plying juniors in Lahti, Niemi was the backup and was driving the Zamboni as well. He kept working, eventually became the team’s top goalie and then won a Stanley Cup with Chicago.
Pekka Rinne – Another goalie who wasn’t the starter for his U20 team. Now he is regarded as one of the best goalies in the NHL and a leading contender for the Vezina Trophy.
The moral of the story is this: Don’t worry about goaltending stats and status at young ages. Instead, keep the focus on athleticism, skill development and working to get better. Stats are a very small part of the equation for youth hockey goaltenders. Scouts will find good players, especially goalies, and it won’t be from perusing youth hockey stats websites.
Also, don’t be in a hurry, especially when it comes to goaltender development. Most goalies don’t hit their prime until around 26-28 years of age. Remember, even the great Dominik Hasek didn’t become a full-time NHL starter until age 28.
The author, Kenny Rausch, began his coaching career in 1996 with Boston University, his alma mater. As a player, he earned Beanpot Tournament MVP honors and was named a Hockey East Distinguished Scholar.